A Weekly Message from Chris+

"Bring Them Here to Me."

Matthew 14:18


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Sunday’s Gospel about Jesus and the disciples and the feeding of thousands of people all with only a scant five loaves of bread and two fish is a familiar one for most of us.  It is the only miracle story recorded in all four gospels, and so we know it was a central story for those earliest Christians. It is easy for us to dismiss it. The numbers don’t make any sense to us. How could five loaves and two fish feed more than five thousand people? It might help to know that in those days so long ago, it was commonplace to exaggerate numbers, not only in texts of faith, but also in the historical record. Josephus, the famed historian of that time, did it too. And yet I mention exaggerated numbers with caution because my intent is not to diminish the miracle or diminish the power of God. But I want to help us remember and notice again the miracle of what happens when compassion and generosity take hold, even when hope hardly exists. The real miracle of this story is that Jesus moves people toward generosity with five loaves and two fish and a few ordinary disciples.

This story is about sharing. The disciples went to Jesus and tried to get him to send the crowds away, back to the towns. It was late. Markets would close. The disciples reasoned that the people needed to get back to town to buy food. The disciples cared about the people, too, but they didn’t know what to do about them. Certainly, there wasn’t enough food here. So the disciples went to Jesus, because they wanted Jesus to fix the problem. The disciples were overwhelmed. The crowds were too big. The problem was too big.
When I look around at all the problems of our world today, I find them overwhelming, and I am overwhelmed when I think about them. The coronavirus, climate change, political upheaval, systemic racism. Yup, I can identify with the disciples on this one. That’s how I feel. The problems are too many, and I don’t know what to do. I just want God to fix it. And way down deep, what I recognize is fear. Fear that the problems have gotten out of hand. I just want to pull the covers over my head and want God to come up with the solution.

But when you look at this story, Jesus wasn’t in such great shape himself. What is little noticed in this story is how it begins. It begins like this: Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the story begins, what Jesus had just heard is that his cousin John the Baptist had been beheaded and that John’s head had been delivered on a platter to Herod. It’s easy to miss this, that Jesus wasn’t in such a good place himself. And so he withdrew to go to a deserted place. Was it to get away from the horror? Was it to get to a place of peace and calm? Was it that he sensed his own life was in even more danger because the powers of the state would soon be after him? Certainly, his message threatened to turn their world upside down. Love instead of military force? Enough food for everyone instead of food only for those who earned it? Compassion instead of fear and hate?

I imagine the deserted place of this story like a brown, empty lot in one of our most blighted urban areas. But I also imagine the deserted place in the middle of our consumeristic society and in the middle of deeply human souls struggling with loneliness or lack of purpose. I imagine the deserted place in my heart when fear has taken over and I just want to take care of myself. Jesus looks on the crowds, sees them as hurting, and acknowledges them as human beings. He addresses the hurts of the people from right out of the middle of his own deep hurt. One author says that it might be helpful to not picture Jesus as the one in this story who is serenely above it all, pulling all of the necessary levers behind the scenes to generate an abundance of bread and fish. Maybe we need to see Jesus, instead, as the one with red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks and whose hands are trembling for the sorrow of it all. Out of his own scarcity, and out of his own emotional train wreck, Jesus manages to bring forth an abundance of life and joy. And he moves the disciples to be part of it (Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching).

Barbara Brown Taylor writes of the problem she has with miracles is that they lead us to leave everything up to God. “Miracles,” she writes, “let us off the hook. They appeal to the part of us that is all too happy to let God feed the crowd, save the world, do it all. But in this story,” she writes, “God tells us, out of God’s own deep pain and sadness for the world, ‘Stop waiting for food to fall from the sky and share what you have. Stop waiting for a miracle and participate in one instead.’” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven)

If we are waiting for a miracle to happen to solve the world’s problems, I think we need to remember what Jesus said to the disciples about the hungry crowd, “They need not go away,” he says. “You give them something to eat.”

Be safe. Be well. Be at peace.

This Sunday

This Sunday please join us for a message, reading, music and prayer from our own clergy, staff and congregation.  

We will then join Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, NZ for a Sunday service.

Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Almighty God, from whom all good things come: You called Ignatius of Loyola to the service of your Divine Majesty and to find you
in all things. Inspired by his example and strengthened by his companionship, may we labor without counting the cost and seek no reward other than knowing that we do your will; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen

Chris Tang
The Church of the Holy Comforter

"God of the present moment, God who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart; bring hope and courage to all who wait or work in uncertainty. Bring hope that you will make them the equal of whatever lies ahead. Bring them courage to endure what cannot be avoided, for your will is health and wholeness; you are God, and we need you."

-A New Zealand Prayer Book—He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa’ (adapted)

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